Yesterday, I learned Yet Another Interesting Tidbit™ about the Chinese culture I've been living in for the past three months: they have hand signals for the numbers six through ten.

Of course, we've all got gestures for the first five numbers, which vary only slightly across the world: you hold up one finger for "one", two for "two", and so on. But we (in America, at least) don't have any gestures for other numbers!

(Actually, American Sign Language has gestures for six-through-ten: if I recall correctly, the thumb and pinky touch and all other fingers extend for "six"; likewise but the thumb and ring finger touch for "seven"; the thumb and middle finger touch for "eight"; the thumb and pointer touch for "nine"; "ten" is a thumbs-up.)

Okay, okay, it's about time I told you what the hand signals are for each number:

six: the Hawaiian one
Palm towards you, stick out your thumb and pinky. It's the hang loose sign! (Or the I love you sign, without the pointer finger. Or even, as drownzsurf notes, a hand telephone.)

seven: the Italian one
Palm facing up, touch the tips of all your fingers together. It's what suave Italian guys do after they've eaten something delicious.
Vorbis says a name for this gesture is mano a carciofo, "artichoke hand".
yclept notes that her father grew up with "seven" being like I've described, except with the pointer and thumb rubbing together (like the "moolah" gesture).

eight: the violent one
Palm facing towards you, extend your pointer finger and thumb in an L shape — like you're pretending your hand is a gun. Your hand should be at roughly the angle of the Nike swoosh (except backwards, if you're using your right hand).

nine: the Captain Hook one
Palm towards you, make a fist but raise your pointer finger slightly — like you've got a hook for a hand, but your hook is small. (Actually, it's identical to the letter X in ASL, but I like the Captain Hook idea better.)

ten: the easy one
Palm towards you, make a fist. Reminds me of the "say that again and I'll crack you one" gesture.
PopeHypocriteIII adds that another symbol for 10 is to cross the pointer and middle fingers, and yclept's dad crosses the pointers of both hands into a + (just like the character for shi).

Never having encountered anything like this in any of my travels, I asked the kids I'm teaching what the gestures were for. In a mixture of broken English and frenzied gestures with a friend, one student explained that the system was used somehow in bartering for animals. yclept's dad says it was also used by middlemen when selling things, who would use it to communicate prices without the other parties present knowing what the price was.

Having travelled in China, I can confirm this fact.

I took a cab to the Bank of China in Tianjin to use their Maestro-aware ATMs one day and found found it closed for lunch. Being otherwise pennyless and having nothing else to do I sat outside the bank and chatted with the Blackmarket moneychangers until it reopened. They didn't speak any appreciable English and my Mandarin was limited but to pass the time they taught me to count with the above number system. Once you are a little proficient with it, you can rapidly barter for anything using one hand which is the real point. Being money changers, they lived by this system and probably enjoyed tourists being able to barter for currency too (don't change money with these guys though, you end up either being skillfully short-changed or with counterfeit currency.

The numbers 1-5 are the same as English/American styles, the numbers 6-10 are as above except that I was taught to use the crossed forefinger/index finger for ten. Thus twenty would be the first two fingers upraised (similar to the V for Victory sign but less spread, palm away from self) and then you cross them and turn it around to indicate ten. This is 2 then 10 which in Mandarin's counting system is 20.

Once you learn this, buying anything becomes much easier and you don't even have that problem with the Cantonese accent confusing 4 and 10.

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